During my initial days at Aizawl, the houses amazed me.

Most of them, like the one in the photograph above, stand on stilts driven into the mountain slope. A businessman I met once said his house was built on a plot measuring 14 metres by 100 metres. How odd, I thought. And then I realised the 100 metres must be the downward slope of the mountain.

Since most of Mizoram is hilly, this is the default template for all houses – rich and poor. The only thing which changes is the material used. Rich houses stand on stilts of concrete, poorer ones on wooden or bamboo ones.

There are other patterns. For instance, every town and village I saw stood atop the top of the ridge. This is an old habit, Daman Singh writes in her book,The Last Frontier: People and Forests in Mizoram. Village chiefs selected village sites on the ridge of steep hills as a defensive strategy. Houses were arranged in tiers, weaving their way up the hill.

I wonder how safe these houses are. This part of India is prone to earthquakes and landslides. The latter are quite common during the rains. A reader brought to my attention a study on the likely fallouts of a magnitude seven quake on Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram. Conducted by the Mizoram Department of Disaster Management, GeoHazards International and several other state departments, the study paints a grim picture. You can download that pdf here.